Clinton’s emails and the Washington insider game

On Tuesday, the public gained access to 44 new email exchanges from Hillary Clinton’s private server that raise new questions about unseemly ties between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department under her leadership.

These new publicly disclosed work-related emails come despite Hillary Clinton promising the public that she turned over all “work-related emails.” FBI Director James Comey dubbed this Clinton claim as “not true,” saying the FBI “found thousands that were not returned,” but perhaps more disturbing than Clinton’s disclosure mistruth was what some suggest is a “pay for play” scheme that could violate Clinton’s ethics agreement with the State Department.

On January 5, 2009, soon-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an agreement, promising the following: “For the duration of my appointment as secretary if I am confirmed, I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which The William J. Clinton Foundation (or the Clinton Global Initiative) is a party or represents a party. …”

Such an agreement is meant to ensure that those in public office, purportedly there to serve the public interest, do not in fact use their office for individual, private gain. In sum, it is intended to prevent third parties from “paying” public officials for government-related “play,” access, or favors.

According to CNN, the Clinton emails, “raise questions about the nature of the department’s relationship with the Clinton Foundation.” Specifically, The New York Times questions “whether the [Clintons’] charitable foundation worked to reward its donors with access and influence at the State Department, a charge that Mrs. Clinton has faced in the past and has always denied.”

In one revealing exchange, the Times reports, “[A]n executive at the Clinton Foundation in 2009 sought to put a billionaire donor in touch with the United States ambassador to Lebanon because of the donor’s interests there.”

Indeed, Clinton Foundation executive Doug Band writes to State Department aides and Clinton’s close confidantes, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, that the Lebanese billionaire foundation donor is a “key guy there [in Lebanon] and to us” and, as such, he needs to be put in touch with a “substance person” in the US government. Abedin suggested getting in touch with the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, to which Band replies, “Better if you call him. Now preferable. This is very important. He’s awake I’m sure.” (The former ambassador told CNN he never spoke with the billionaire.)

The Times points out an additional seemingly quid pro quo exchange, where “the foundation appeared to push aides to Mrs. Clinton to help find a job for a foundation associate. Her aides indicated that the department was working on the request.”

In this correspondence, the foundation’s Band asks for “a favor” from State Department aides Abedin and Mills, saying that it is “important to take care of” the foundation associate whose name was redacted from the document to which Abedin replied, “Personnel has been sending him options.”

This second correspondence is reminiscent of another recent Clinton controversy, where a million dollar donor to the Clinton Foundation was appointed to Clinton’s International Security Advisory Board even though he had no experience for the position. As The New York Post notes, the board “provides advice … on all arms control, and its members are national security experts with scientific, military, diplomatic and political backgrounds, according to its website.”

All this comes after Clinton once again insisted, “[T]here is absolutely no connection between anything that I did as secretary of state and the Clinton Foundation.” The Clinton campaign responded to the controversy in claiming, “Neither of these emails involve the secretary or relate to the foundation’s work. They are communications between her aides and the President’s personal aide, and indeed the recommendation was for one of the secretary’s former staffers who was not employed by the foundation.”

The campaign suggestion that Band was operating as Bill Clinton’s aide when he wrote the emails rather than as a Clinton Foundation executive is hardly compelling, especially given that both roles place him in direct involvement with the Clinton Foundation and that the benefit recipients of Band’s work were tied into the foundation either as billionaire donor or associate traveling abroad with the foundation.

Regardless of whether these individuals were friends, donors, associates or whether there was in fact any quid pro quo exchange, many look at these interactions as a nebulous web where Washington insiders gain special access.

From a political standpoint, the troubling revelations from Clinton’s emails further cement her position as a Washington insider, where a donor is recommended for a key position regardless of qualification — like in the International Security Advisory Board case.

In an election where insurgent outsiders like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump ran against Wall Street fat cats and the Washington establishment, respectively, these Clinton revelations could indeed be a game changer. Moreover, the emails are a further blow to Clinton’s honest and trustworthy numbers — and at this point, just 34% of the American electorate say they trust the Democratic presidential nominee.

In an election about change, the Clinton emails suggest more of the same Washington elite practices and a potential obstacle for Clinton’s bid for the presidency.

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